Saturday, September 9, 2017

Out of the Wreckage Teaser

Monbiot's new book looks to be most similar to his Manifesto, which came out just over a decade ago. I love when he gets all revolutionary and inspirational. Here's an excerpt of his excerpt:
"Is it reasonable to hope for a better world? Study the cruelty and indifference of governments, the disarray of opposition parties, the apparently inexorable slide towards climate breakdown, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and the answer appears to be no....[But] political failure is, in essence, a failure of imagination....Those who tell the stories run the world....Although the stories told by social democracy and neoliberalism are starkly opposed to each other, they have the same narrative structure. We could call it the Restoration Story....the reason why, despite its multiple and manifest failures, we appear to be stuck with neoliberalism is that we have failed to produce a new narrative with which to replace it....[Humans] possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others....We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living....Where we find ourselves crushed between market and state, we will develop a new economics that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons....We know that if we can mobilise such silent majorities, there is nothing this small minority can do to stop us. But because we have failed to understand what is possible, and above all failed to replace our tired political stories with a compelling narrative of transformation and restoration, we have failed to realise this potential. As we rekindle our imagination, we discover our power to act. And that is the point at which we become unstoppable."


Owen Gray said...

"Failing to understand what is possible. . . ." That's the heart of the matter, Marie.

Lorne said...

Monbiot seems to be talking here about a failure of imagination, something that is readily apparent in mainstream political parties in both the U.S. and Canada. As long as we allow them to dominate the narrative, I see no prospects for change, Marie.

I just started reading Naomi Klein's latest book, No; I have only read about 35 pages, but she seems to be hinting at ways to challenge the narrative and harness the goodwill of people. If you haven't read it, I will let you know what she proposes when I get to it.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure if Monbiot's horse hasn't left the barn. In his 2005 book, "The Collapse of Globalism," John Ralston Saul declared neoliberal/free market fundamentalism a lifeless failure. Since then the IMF and the World Bank have said much the same. Saul describes the post-globalist world as a state of interregnum, a pause while we wait for the "next big thing."

Saul points out that economics is a belief-driven, social science which partly explains why most economic paradigms tend to last 30 to 40 years to then be superseded by a new orthodoxy. Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney ushered in neoliberalism when they converted to the belief-based models of Hayek and Friedman. Remember all the talk about new, better paid jobs in a new economy? That didn't happen. Friedman watched the experiment fail and before his death admitted the failure of the experiment.

So, why have we not moved on? Why are our leaders doubling down on a proven losing bet? My guess is that we've entered a period of global upheaval that obscures what the future may hold. Climate change, overpopulation, our excess demand on resources (over-consumption) are, together, coming home to roost. We're depleting our critical forest reserves, we're collapsing global fisheries, exhausting global groundwater reserves and degrading our arable farmland. We've gone from about 2.5 billion at my birth to 7.5 billion today and yet we still pursue perpetual exponential growth. We have some 27 trillion dollars of known fossil energy reserves subscribed on the world's stock exchanges and bourses. That's a huge chunk of wealth to which our economy is tied. Burst the carbon bubble and the damage would make the 2008 recession look insignificant.

I don't think there's going to be a "next big thing." Surely by now we ought to have moved on, embraced the next great economic orthodoxy only that's not happened and Saul's interregnum simply continues. I believe the way forward is the way back. We desperately need a restoration of progressive democracy which is not an economic theory but a form of political and social organization to which economic practice must conform, not the other way around as we have today. I'll continue this...

The Mound of Sound said...


I've just secured a first edition of the 1907 book "The Meaning of Modern Life: A Course of Forty Lectures" by Charles F. Horne. It's a lengthy tome in excellent condition for its 110 years and I scored it for a paltry $15. Something of a find.

The lectures or essays are by some of the great minds of that era - Theodore Roosevelt; Ira Remsen, President of John Hopkins University; Woodrow Wilson then President of Princeton; Max Nordau, President of Congress of Zionists; the legendary William Dean Howells, editor of "The Atlantic" and then "Dean of American Letters"; H.G.Wells; Grover Cleveland, Tolstoy; Andrew Carnegie; Caroline Hazard, Wellesley College; Simeon Baldwin and several others of that same stature. The level and diversity of intellect in this one thick book certainly seems daunting.

The lecture titles reflect the scope of what I hope to learn: The Danger, The Beliefs, The Birth of Conscience, The Soul in Beasts, Our Country, the Making of the Nation; Patriotism and Politics; Our Past; Woman; Universal Suffrage; Society, the Role of Women in Society; Manhood; The Toilers, The Soil, Land and Its Ownership in the Past; Anarchism; War; Arbitration, The Mysteries; The Will; Our Hope; and Our Goal among them.

The book is a time capsule of progressive thought before the advent of modernism - world wars, the Great Depression, the labour movement, modern capitalism, universal suffrage and the brief rise of the middle class. I hope this will make the writing uncluttered, perhaps less compromised. We shall see.

I believe that a restoration of progressive democracy is our last, best hope for responding to the world that awaits us in the coming decades. We've already grown our global economy far beyond the limits of the global ecology. You cannot for long have an economy that is larger than the environment. It's bound to fail as it already is. Our leaders remain obsessed with perpetual, exponential growth. They still see GDP as the measure of success.

I'll be looking to the wisdom of the near-past hoping to find answers to some of the problems that plague us now and in the near-future. I hope I don't emerge empty-handed.

Marie Snyder said...

@Owen - A failure to understand and a failure to have the collective will to make the possible a reality. There's so much we know we could be doing but just won't.

@Lorne - Yes, let us know her plan. I imagine it will fit with the Leap Manifesto principles. I like how that manifesto's set up, and I hope it gains some traction, but I find her books a bit tedious to get through. I think Shock Doctrine was the last one I actually finished.

@Mound - I think we're being continuously distracted from considering the future - intentionally so - to protect the powers that be and mollify the masses. We can choose a difficult path or a deadly path, and that's hard to face (like how to stop people from having more than one kid when it infringes on their reproductive rights and messes up our typical economic scheme of the young helping fund the pensions of the elderly). Luckily there's social media and Trump's buffoonery to keep us from thinking too deeply. By default, we're taking the deadly path. Monbiot's idea of changing the narrative echoes Charles Taylor's ideas of the social imaginaries - we can't do it until we can think it, and that requires the right stories. And that story is the one where the heroes turn back to progressive democracy and the necessary depression era virtues of resourcefulness, frugality, and restraint.